Navratri, meaning 'nine nights', is an
ancient and colourful festival. It honors the one divine 'Shakti' or
Force, which supports the entire universe, and is personified as the
Mother Goddess. She protects her worshippers, destroys evil and grants
boons to her children. The mother Goddess has seven well-known forms,
depending upon the special powers she manifests. Throughout Gujarat,
Navratri is celebrated with joy and religious fevour.
This festival is essentially religious in nature. It is celebrated with true devotion in the various temples dedicated to the Mother, or 'Mataji', as she is familiarly called. In some homes, images of the Mother are worshipped in accordance with accepted practice. This is also true of the temples which usually have a constant stream of visitors from morning to night, another interesting feature of Navratri is the Garba, a circular dance performed by women around an earthen ware pot called a "Garbo", filled with water.
A betel nit and a silver coin are placed within the pot, called a "Kumbh", on top of which a coconut has also been placed. As the dancers whirl around the pot, a singer and a drummer provide the musical accompaniment. The participants clap in a steady rhythm.
Nowadays, loudspeakers are used to enhance the sound, which grows to a crescendo. The dance usually starts slowly. It gets faster and faster as the music too gets more rapid, until the dance abruptly comes to a halt. There is a pause for a while and the dance commences once again, the singer leading with a new song.
Another dance, which is also a feature of Navaratri, is the "Dandia-Ras" or 'stick' dance, in which men and women join the dance circle, holding small polished sticks or Dandias. As they whirl to the intoxicating rhythm of the dance, men and women strike the Dandias together, adding to the joyous atmosphere.
So popular are the Garba and the Dandia-Ras that competitions are held to assess the quality of the dancing. Prizes are given to those judged to be the best. The costume worn for the dances are traditional and alive with colour. The dances usually commence late in the night and continue until early morning, testifying to their great popularity.
NAVRATRI AT AHMEDABAD
While the basic celebrations are alive and joyous, as they are elsewhere, at Ahmedabad the Garba parties are enormous. In large public squares group of musicians sing the traditional Garba songs. A Bhajan singer with a Harmonium sings into a microphone. In crowded localities, where open space is not available, the Garba ceases to be a circular dance but instead becomes a long line of people, comprising both men and women moving in accordance with the turns and bends of the street. The scene is truly fantastic.
NAVRATRI IN BARODA
Baroda is a well-known centre of music and culture, and many streets have their own Garba Mandals, or Garba groups. A Bhavai performance is held at Baroda's Ambaji temple, during Navratri. Many other places within Gujarat have their own local customs ad celebrate Navratri in their own special way